Blogs from Thinking-Cooking.com

Where Super Mario Kart collides with real life - The Winter Olympics

So... I've just returned to work after the longest illness-induced break I've endured since infant school. That time it was a very nasty virus which I'm told I fielded largely while lying on my grandma's sofa and watching snooker on a black and white television with my grandad. Snooker and black and white televisions don't mix.

This time around it was the flu. And no, for the last time, it was not 'man-flu' - it was the actual flu. Influenza. A seeming near-death heat-fuelled experience, call it what you will. Not only that, but my wife also had it, almost concurrently, which at one point left a six-year-old girl as the last-man standing. 

Was it fair to ask a six-year-old to cook tea? I daresay somewhere in the world it's happened before, but fortunately for everyone involved my wife, slightly better than I was, managed to put a pizza in the oven for the kids (and, most impressively bearing in mind how poorly she was, remember it was there and remove it again).

There's nothing in the proverbial parenting book for what to do when both parents are very ill at the same time. I guess someone just has to get on with it.

Still, plenty of time on the couch under a blanket meant plenty of time for watching - and trying to understand - the Winter Olympics.

I'll upset a few people no doubt, but I'm still not convinced ice dance is a sport. You wouldn't see disco dancing in the Summer Olympics. Gymnastics, yes, so I can appreciate Figure Skating's place, but ice dance?.... And as for curling, well Britain seems to have gone curling crazy, largely because from what I can see it is the only winter sport we're consistently good at. I agree it is occasionally exciting, but a few minutes excitement after tedious hours of watching next to nothing happen is a poor exchange.

No, for me, it was about one sport and one-sport only (well two, but you'll see what I mean in a minute).... and that sport is Snowboard Cross. And it's half-brother Ski Cross. Now, for anyone who missed it, Snowboard Cross involved four competitors racing down an insane circuit that was inspired by Super Mario Kart, leaping off giant jumps and generally going hell-for-leather in a desperate bid to cross the line first. From what I saw at least half the competitors weren't standing when they crossed the line.

Honestly, you half-expect Sonic the Hedgehog to snowboard past, or gold coins to appear in the air along the route.

These guys are truly insane. Their medical insurance premiums must be off-the-scale. What's more there doesn't, from what I could see, appear to be any rules. So if you can gain an advantage by just blocking an opponents way, you can just do it. In the Ski Cross final it was three Frenchmen and a Canadian. And to say the three Frenchmen ganged up on the poor Canadian would be the understatement of the day. It was almost like the three of them finished him off and then raced for the line, their race having begun.

In any other sport he would have been able to appeal, cry foul. But not in Ski Cross. How can you break the rules if there are none to break?

MARK LINGARD, MARKETING

 

Olives for Christmas and unspreadable butter

Q. What do a minion, a fluffy unicorn, a chair, a horse, £200, a tub of olives and a magic wand have in common? A. They all appear on my six-year-old daughter's Christmas list. And she doesn't just want a toy minion, as in from Despicable Me. No, she wants an actual minion, so that it can tidy her bedroom.

I sense some disappointment come Christmas morning, and we may need to persuade her that Santa's ethics prevent him from taking part in the cartoon-character slave trade, £200 is a lot of money for a six-year-old, that she's nowhere to put the horse and real magic wands are not that easy to come by - even for the bearded one..

However, olives we can do. Seriously, how many six-year-old girls even like olives, never mind like them enough to ask Santa for some. There's no chocolate on the list, no sweets, just a tub of olives. She's even been known to spend her well-earned spending money in the past at the deli counter in Sainsbury's. 

And speaking of Sainsbury's, or more accurately something bought at Sainsbury's. Butter. Let's deal with the big stuff. Newsnight eat your heart out... Jeremy Paxman, you couldn't handle a topic like this one. Butter... or more accurately spreadable butter. More specifically Lurpak Spreadable Butter. Now, this morning, like many mornings, I went to make myself a sandwich. This morning, like many mornings, I used Lurpak Spreadable Butter. And this morning, like many mornings, I found it very difficult to spread.

Spreadable? It's anything but.... a more accurate name would Lurpak Marginally More Spreadable Than A Solid Lump Of Butter. If you take the bold decision to name your product Lurpak Spreadable Butter then there's two important things that need to be right. 1) It must be butter. 2) It must be spreadable. If you fail on either of these two key facts, the product has surely failed in its raison d'etre. The renaming of this product is another campaign I intend to start in the new year...

Anyway, have a good Christmas... and I'm sure I will return with some inane ramblings very soon!

MARK LINGARD, MARKETING

Christmas has taken a sinister turn...

I feel like I've moved over to the dark side, like some sort of festive Darth Vader. Everything was going swimmingly. Christmas presents mostly bought.... I say mostly, that's a kind of exaggeration but I have bought some Christmas presents and it is more than one, so I am counting that as a significant achievement.

Work's Christmas party passed without incident.... well not entirely without incident, I did meet an entirely fictional character, dressed in a suit. Only this one was masquerading as an employee - an Italian customer services representative - for, well, for us. Funny that, funny how I had never, ever met you before. 

And I did discover from my wife that, in her own words, "the only palatable version of Wonderwall is the Mike Flower's Pop version". Is that grounds for divorce?

But anyway, all was on track for a stonking Christmas. And then things took a sinister turn. It was on Sunday, around noon that the problem began, while talking to my mother-in-law. She delivered news that shocked me to my core. "I don't think we'll be having turkey this year." Even now I couldn't say this out loud.

I actually like turkey. It is probably my favourite roast meat, maybe with the exception of lamb. And you only ever get it at Christmas, or at least I do. So being told that this year it's not happening, it was like being hit with a sledgehammer. I wasn't even sat down, surely there's a protocol for delivering this kind of news.

Break it gently. Sew some seeds.... don't just blurt it out over a cup of coffee. I mean, it opens so many questions. If we're not having turkey for Christmas dinner, then what the dickens are we having? What else is considered acceptable for Christmas dinner? Chicken? Beef? Salmon?.... Seriously, salmon?

I was talking to a friend last night, and she told me her Christmas dinner was going to be cheap this year. "The kid's don't want turkey," she said, "why can't we have something we actually like for Christmas dinner?" they asked, apparently. And so they are having spicy chicken wings. On Christmas Day. Spicy chicken wings.... 

This is a slippery slope. From spicy chicken wings, it'll be pizza next, or trifle instead of Christmas pudding. Soon turkey won't be the norm, and then what will happen to likes of me, the people who actually like turkey and look forward to it once a year. I'm thinking of starting a 'Traditional Christmas' campaign, or maybe picketing. Who's with me?...

MARK LINGARD, MARKETING

 

I'm Not Interested, Get Me Out Of Here...

For the last week my life has been very similar. Get home, put the kids to bed, make tea, get forced to watch I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. Now, strangely when compared with other programmes of this ilk (I would rather be garotted by a rabid Venezuelan monk than watch Big Brother) I do find I'm A Celebrity bearable.

If you can get past the fact that there's very few celebrities - My Career's Flagging, Get Me Out Of Here would be more accurate - the sheer sarcastic humour of Ant & Dec and the horrendous trials they had to endure just to earn the chance to eat a fried crocodile's foot make for tolerable TV. Note I said tolerable. Not good. 

What made the 2013 series even more tolerable was the appearance of Carlton from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Here's a guy who epitomises the phrase one-hit wonder - but what a hit. And here is is, a slighty fatter parody of himself, still trading off the Carlton dance. Has he done any acting since The Fresh Prince? Who knows...

Last night's trial involved a Miss Something-or-Other (Miss Universe? Miss England? Miss Calculated?) wading through some sort of angry festering swamp in return for some dodgy food. Rather like visiting a well-known burger establishment. And sometimes I feel I am in that angry putrid swamp, albeit less scantily clad.

The swamp in my case is my inbox. For every email I want to read, there is two or three I don't. Spam emails from people purporting to have lost their passport and being currently holed up a hotel in Malaysia in fear of their life - when I know the person at question is at home, having never left Shropshire. Emails from Nigerian tribal chiefs offering me a share of $456 billion, emails from Russian oligarchs, the IRS, Barclays, emails from Chinese companies trying to sell food additives..... I could go on.

But recently there's been a massive rise in one particular type of email. One my spam filters never seem to pick up and which is driving me insane. SEO. Google. Websites. Companies offering services web design, pay-per-click, search engine optimisation - and they are invariably from India, or Vietnam.

I must point out at this point, I have absolutely nothing against either of these two countries. In fact I'd love to visit them both and hopefully will one day. But why, why why would I ever consider handing over such a crucial part of the business to a company on the other side of the world who has emailed me out of the blue and can't even write it in English. They want to do my SEO, and yet can't even type an email to me of 200 words of less in correct English? 

Who in their right mind is going to take them up on this? Who is sat there thinking 'I know, instead of researching and finding a local SEO company, where I can talk face to face and make sure they have a clear grasp of my needs and what the company does. No, I've got a better idea, I am going to employ the first person from the Indian subcontinent who emails me out of the blue, regardless of their grasp of the English language, because they say they are excellent'.

Seriously, stop it. Stop it. Don't send the first email, and certainly don't send a second a few days later because 'you've not heard back'. Yes, there is a reason why you've not heard.

MARK LINGARD, MARKETING 

Salad that is like the Duracell bunny...

It's just going on, and on, and on.... like the Duracell bunny the salad in my fridge refuses to die. On Saturday, November 23rd I bought some salad from Sainsbury's. Spinach, rocket and watercress. Now, normally by Tuesday at the latest said salad would be starting to look wilted, slimy and on the edge of edible.

But not this time. Because this time I put the salad immediately into a Think-Fresh: Shelf-Life bag. Just popped the salad in, tied it with a garden peg, and stuffed it in the fridge.

Now, at this point I must confess I was fully intending to eat the salad. There was no deliberate attempt to push the salad to its limits. I wasn't looking to get to the point where I was opening the fridge willing the salad to have finally given up and accepted its rotten fate. No, for some reason, it just didn't fulfill its balsamic-vinegar-drenched destiny.

So here were are, on Wednesday, December 4th - a full 11 days after that trip to Sainsbury's - and the salad's still alive and kicking. More than that, it's still edible. It's started to yellow slightly in patches, but there's no moisture in the bag. It's not perfect today, but I guarantee you will have eaten salads far worse than this in your time.

11 days and it is still very much edible with a bit of dressing. 7 days and it was still perfect, 100% perfect. So, if you are like me and constantly throwing out salads, tomatoes and mushrooms because you've not managed to eat them in time, we have the answer.... and it is an answer you'll be impressed with, I guarantee it.

Now it is time to experiment - watch this space, I'm going to buy some stuff and keep you posted how long it lasts. Could be interesting....

MARK LINGARD, MARKETING 

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